She is of Ethiopian origin, belonging to the Siddis clan whose ancestors were brought to India to Junagadh by the then Nawab, nearly 400 years ago. Resettled in Jambhur village of Talala taluka in Junagadh, by the government, Siddis, especially the women folk look up to Hirbaiben to empower and enlighten them towards a better life.
Hirbaiben Ibrahim Lobi was just a hapless girl of her illiterate, underfed and disempowered clan, who lost her mother at four, father at fourteen and was subsequently married to a landless man. Illiteracy, unemployment, indebtedness and alcoholism were very much rampant among the men folk and it was the women who foraged and sold fuel wood for sustenance.
With half a hectare of land inherited by her from her father on which was a debt of Rs 1 lakh, she was under constant pressure to sell the land to clear her debts. This was where she chose to be different and her life took a new turn.
By sheer hard work she and her husband produced enough from the land to pay off her debts. Today her labour and foresight gives testimony to the mango orchards, coconut trees, vegetable and sugarcane crops that adorn her land. It has a pump set, sprayer and other farm implements also.
Her vision grew and now the betterment of her community was her focus. Realizing the importance of education and self help, with support from, The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), an NGO, she started a day care center for children and followed it up with a primary school. She went ahead to dispel superstitions and opened a flour mill in the village. Through promotion of self help groups (SHGs), she made a marked achievement by socially and economically empowering Siddis women. Health and hygiene also were her prime concerns. Her efforts bore fruit as 95 women from six villages formed 12 SHGs and started life afresh.
She had entrepreneurial skills also in her which was visible in the project started by her, to manufacture organic manure, branded ‘Panchatatva’ being very conscious of its qualitative standards. Today it is a household name and gives a turnover in lakhs and a comfortable life to many.
Modest as ever, though highly successful, Hirbai enthusiastically loves to share her experiences with visitors, while showing her farm and projects around.
Today she is no less than an icon as not a single women development programme or SHG initiative in Saurashtra takes off without her presence! A gifted orator at that, she is in the limelight at every public function. Undoubtedly, Hirbai is worthy of emulation as a woman of substance with clear foresight and hard work, a shining icon of success whose livelihood initiatives are practical solutions to eradicate rural evils like poverty, illiteracy and indebtedness. Hirbai is the essence of woman power, successfully transforming lives of the underprivileged rural masses to one of empowerment and. enlightenment. She could successful engage, enable and help the rural folks to evolve in life.
Her toothy grin says it all as she looks back on the journey of life, the road taken, from an unknown face among the crowd to one that stands tall as an icon today.
Contributed by Harina, Facilitator, State Bank Learning Centre, Indore
(Based on an article by Julius Machado in the Financial Express)